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Wuemsel's Fanfic Corner

The Invention of Hell


Home

Starsky had said itīd be a good idea to go home.
 
So here he was. Waiting for the good to grace the idea, while he physically waited for THEM to fail to notice his presence. Gently closing a door behind himself he hadnīt had his hands on for what felt like a whole lifetime--hell, what WAS a whole lifetime--he closed his eyes reflexively at the cracking sounds of footsteps on the floor downstairs. Keeping very, very still, he heard an old, long forgotten voice waking up in his mind, tumbling through it like an animal that had been sick and had to slowly learn how to walk again.
 
'Donīt let him hear. Quiet. Quiet.  Donīt let him--'
 
"Thereīs no one here, Margaret. I told you, youre seeing ghosts."
 
The sudden, very real, very present, very well remembered voice from downstairs broke through his childhood mantra as if a switch had suddenly been turned once more. Heīd left the car as an adult, in complete control of his fears, his reactions, his demons...
 
The moment heīd touched the doorknob--Or had it touched him?--though, said demons had stirred his inner child, like one would startle a sleeping infant, causing him to cry in anguish.
 
He was scared. Terrified. Yet, now that heīd heard that deep, whiskey-and-cigars-baritone voice of his past, heīd somehow found his way back out of the knots of emotions overwhelming him. He WAS an adult, he WAS in control of everything. So why was he hiding, fingers curled around the doorknob as if trying to hold it closed? Why was he doing what heīd used to do ages ago? Why was everything back in just a snap of two fingers?
 
"But Iī m sure I heard..." a soft, feminine voice followed the first one, the words trailing off into nothingness as their producer moved away from the stairs again.
 
Actually appalled, he suddenly noticed heīd relaxed at that realization, and, without thinking, jerked open the door hed pressed closed with all his strength, to step outside. "Itīs m..." he started loudly, but cut himself off instantly at the echo of his own strong voice in his ears.
 
As quickly as it had appeared, his courage vanished in the air, leaving him with a hand on the doorknob, almost ready to hide again. But, of course, now it was too late.
 
"Kenneth?"
 
Flinching violently at the two voices calling out his seldom used full name in synchronized surprise, Hutch straightened his posture, stepping away from the door into a shaft of light falling onto the floor upstairs from where he looked down at his parents, a nervous smile tugging at his lips at their positions. 'Looking DOWN at the old man for a change, Hutch?'
 
"Y-yeah, i-itīs m..." Clearing his throat in a futile attempt to fight his stress stutter, that felt perfectly at home right away, he gripped the banister hard, holding onto it as if to prevent himself from falling down. "Itīs me. Hi Mom. Sir."
 
His motherīs genuine smile broke free before her happy "Hi yourself!" had even left her lips. But Hutch didnīt see. What he saw was the shadow building on Gregory Hutchinsonīs face, a shadow that widened to swallow Margaretīs joy and with it seemingly every piece of conviction Hutch had been able to fill his mind with about the whole idea over the past few hours.
 
The moment he felt himself being touched by that shadow, Hutch knew that his partnersī idea was never going to be promoted to a "good" one. Itīd be engulfed by the darkness of the shadow, along with him.
 
His shoulders slumped, disappointment etching its way forward inside him, more at the fact that hed lost the struggle hed foreseen anyway after a simple "hi" already, than at anything else. Actually, that he WAS disappointed at all, he called a good sign. Things werenīt dead. They were shadowy.
 
"What is going on here?" the older Hutchinson asked lowly, quietly, the audio ideal of self-control. The shadow evident in his voice, cooling it to a point Hutch knew, a point when young Kenny had always started to wait for his fatherīs breath to be seen in the air as ice crystals.
 
Things never changed. Nothing ever did.
 
"What dīyou think youre doing, Kenneth? Sneaking inside your own home, startling your mother! Is that a proper way to greet your parents?"
 
"Greg..." Margaret started in a chiding whisper, but was met with stoic ignorance as well as her own weakness. She didnīt even need to look at her husband to let her words trail off, leaving her son alone in the focus of the angered man, as she always had and always would.
Persons never changed. No one ever did.
 
"Well?" Gregory added after a second of deadly silence, his icy blue eyes seemingly glowing in the darkness downstairs.
 
Hutch swallowed dryly, subconsciously straightening up even more. "N-no, Sir."
 
"No, Sir, what?"
 
"No, Sir, itīs no way t-to sneak insi... I-I mean..." Mouth still hanging open as if the syllables had just fallen out, Hutch looked down at the two people hed left such a long time ago to never return, to never ever care, and smiled. 'Hell with the past, hell with you, Kenny.  Iīm no kid anymore, damn it!'
 
"Itīs good to see you. Mom," he added with a more than a little cocky smirk, as he made his way down the stairs, eyes locked with his fatherīs all the time, until he found himself wrapped in a welcoming motherly hug that he most willingly returned.
 
"Oh Ken, itīs good to see you too," she said through a watery smile, holding him tight. Feeling very self-conscious about his actions, Hutch returned his fatherīs stare over her shoulder, while accepting his mothers need for contact before it broke, her arms slowly drawing back, but only so that she now held him at arms length, studying him closely.
 
"You look great," she finally stated with a seemingly proud grin, lovingly cupping his cheek before she fully stepped back, taking her usual position next to her husband. "Doesnīt he, Greg?"
 
For the first time since his partner had offered him to drive his car three weeks ago, Hutch laughed. Experience forced him to restrain the actual sarcastic energy that flooded through him and colored the sound, but still his own awareness of his actually rather pathetic outer appearance was evident in it, and he couldnt resist the temptation to add in a voice dripping with bitterness, "I bet I do. Donīt I--Dad?"
 
Though the older Hutchinsonīs look was already locked with his sonīs, it seemed to snap up at that remark, as if heīd looked down before. Anger flickered in them, causing a trickling sensation of pure satisfaction to run through the younger mans mind. He knew that feeling all too well, its dangers, its necessity.
 
'Still works, old man, doesnīt it?' he thought, his light blue eyes, so much like those they stared into, full of dancing light like giggles. 'I still know how to push your buttons. Hell, shouldnīt be surprised. People never change. No one ever does.'
 
How right he was. He still flinched when Gregory Hutchinson reached out to tip one long index finger against his cheek to turn his face to the side. He still trembled under the feather light touch of the large hand.
 
"Hardly," Gregory finally answered quietly, not letting go off his sonīs face, even when the silence after the single word stretched itself unendurably.
 
At last, Hutch stepped back to avoid the lingering contact. As if his fatherīs touch had magically drained his mind of the newly found will to fight and struggle like a rested boxer (And, boy, had he had time to rest.), the younger manīs gaze dropped again, fear rising inside him once more, threatening to choke him like it had before.
 
Things never changed. Nothing ever did.
 
"Mom," he began, not looking at the woman he addressed, not looking at anyone. Given up, he had. Given up before heīd even lost. But then, what DID he have to lose then, anyway? Starsky had said itīd be a good idea. Starsky had said he should do it. And heīd promised.
Promised. 'Oh hell...'
 
"I... uh... I-I need to talk to you about something. Both of you." Being his fatherīs son, he managed to lower his voice a few degrees.
 
"Really?" Gregory replied, giving a credible imitation of a tone Hutch knew to be in his repertoire too, a fact that irritated him even more than the cruel mocking evident in it. "And what would that be?"
 
Meeting his fathers gaze for just a second, Hutch contemplated about shooting back a reply, but decided against it. "Iīm... Itīs just... Something..."
 
Now that he was on it, he found it incredibly difficult to recall his carefully laid out lines of explanation, his oh so gingerly constructed sentences. All of a sudden all he could think of were excuses, the same old, somewhat crabby feeling words hed heard himself utter so many times before, the ones heīd said to Starsky, Huggy, himself...
 
"Something happened. To... to me. I... uhm..."
 
Silence met him when he didnīt go any further, and when he peeked up into his parentsī expectant eyes, he found no support, nothing to ease his way.
 
Things never changed.
 
"Hey, wh-why donīt we do this in the kitchen, where we can all sit down and... talk," he suggested, shrugging wearily, a pleading look finding his mothersī. "Please?"
 
"Kenneth," his father said sternly, his tone making it clear the topic would be named right now, "what happened?"
 
People didnīt change. Kenny bowed his head, closed his eyes--and told.

****

Starsky had said itīd be a good idea to go home, see his parents. And so heīd gone. Easy.
 
'Buddy, donīt make me go there. Please.' How many times had he heard his own pathetic pleading inside his head? How many times had he forced himself to ignore it? How many times had he blocked out his own thoughts in favor of Starskyīs being planted in his mind?
 
"I... I just donīt... I donīt know, Starsk. I-I mean... Me and my parents weīre not that... close," heīd finished lamely the first time his partner had brought the topic up, about two weeks after THE INCIDENT had taken place.
 
"I donīt know if I want them to know about it, anyway," heīd added, avoiding the eye contact his friend had searched for with all his physical energy, bending and stretching his head in order to lock his dark blue eyes with Hutchīs from where heīd sat across him on a chair, while Hutch squirmed on the couch under his gaze like a frightened child.
 
Theyīd just survived two weeks in hell with Hutch still confined to Starskyīs apartment, since Dobey hadnīt allowed his shaken up detective to return to work unless he himself would be absolutely convinced of his detective being okay again, and secondly because Hutch couldnīt stay at the beach house.
 
Theyīd tried that. With Starsky, of course, staying, Hutch had first returned to his home, the home heīd been attacked at, from where heīd been abducted, but only to find himself waking up screaming after hours of his mind forcefully fighting off sleep, until his body used his advantage and just dragged the struggling thoughts into a darkness filled with nightmares and demons. When he awoke, Hutch would have cravings almost as bad as theyīd been at Huggys, even though his body obviously hadnīt yearned for the drug any longer.
 
'Phantom cravings' heīd call them, referring to amputees phantom pains, much to Starskyīs disapproval. If there was one thing Starsky couldnīt stand, it was hearing his partnerīs self-abusing cynicism.
"Okay, my place it is then," the final decision had finally been made. Of course, in the middle of yet another restless night with Hutch being too weak to argue, anyway.
 
"Starsk, cmon, theyīre just nightma-"
 
"No buts, no cīmons, Blintz, weīre moving and thatīs that. Not every one of us can live with three minutes of sleep per night, okay? We both need some real sleep sometime soon, and itīs obvious were not going to get it here."
 
Under normal circumstances, Hutch would have argued with him, but normal circumstances had stopped existing what felt like an eternity ago. As had Hutch, as it seemed to himself. At some point during the cold turkey, Hutch had been lost, had ceased to exist and had left only an empty carcass behind, a shadow of the man he used to be. 'Phantom Hutch'.
 
Phantom Hutch was weak whereas Hutch had been strong, withdrawn instead of open, quiet, nervous, tense, haunted. Hutch had always feared to be undeserving of the caring love he always found himself met with by Starsky--Phantom Hutch KNEW he didnīt deserve it. Didnīt deserve anything. Phantom Hutch was walking on clouds, always ready to fall through them into nothingness with only air underneath him to break his fall, only air around him.
 
Phantom Hutch was alone and scared of it. Guilty and scared of that too.
 
"Hey, you know, Iīve been thinking," Starsky had announced one day after having witnessed yet another silent meal that, like all the ones before, had resembled a physical training rather than an actual intake of food on Hutchīs side--exercise #1: shoving the food from the left to the right.
 
"Oh?" Hutch had answered, absent-minded, not noticing his partnerīs disappointment at his lack of smart-ass-replies referring to the his ability of accomplishing the claimed action.
 
"Yes," Starsky had nodded exaggeratedly, but again had had to find Hutch failing to use the short pause hed cut in for him. "Thinking."
 
"Hm." Hutch hadnīt been listening.
 
Rolling his eyes, Starsky had sighed, looked at Hutch, waited, and hit his palm flatly onto the table, startling his partner to the point of literally falling off the chair heīd sat on.
 
Silence.
 
Starsky had sat on his chair, bent forward to see his partner on the ground, who was wildly looking up at him, terror fading from light blue eyes.
 
"Well?!" Starsky had finally exploded, throwing his hands into the air.
"Arenīt ya gonna yell at me?"
 
But to his utter dismay, Hutch had just stared, jaw tensed so much his lips seemed to quiver.
 
"Hutch?" Concern quickly replacing anger, Starsky had carefully lowered himself to the ground next to his friend, reaching out to lightly touch his shoulder.
 
"Uhm..." Snapping out of whatever it had been hed been caught in, Hutch had blinked once, twice, then dragged a corner of his mouth down, almost apologetically. "S-sorry. Sorry, Starsk. Think I sorta... uh... wh-what dīyou say?"
 
Despite himself, Starsky had felt his dark blue eyes widen at that as if suddenly scared. "What did I SAY?!" As if exhausted, heīd let himself fall back, until heīd sat across Hutch on the floor, studying him with a pained expression on his face. "Buddy, this has to stop. Youīre losing it."
 
Since his partnerīs reaction--opening his mouth in a weary attempt at protest, but closing it before any sound had escaped his lips--hadnīt exactly eased Starskys distress, heīd went on urging, "I love you, you know that, and Iīm here whenever you need me, but..."
 
Trailing off, not sure how he wanted to verbalize his idea, Starsky had missed light blue eyes snapping up in clear horror at the last word.
 
"Donīt get this wrong, okay," Starsky had continued, unaware of his increasing Hutchs distress, "but I really think you gotta talk to someone about... this."
 
"B-but..." Hutch had started quickly, but bit his lower lip to cut himself off, looking pleadingly at his friend, though forcing normalcy onto his features. "Uhm... O-okay, I... wh-what like... Like..." A nervous laugh. "Like a... shrink? You want me to talk to a... shrink?"
 
Frowning slightly, Starsky had carefully, as if not to let Hutch know about his action, scooted closer until he could place a warm, reassuring hand onto the other ones knee. The fear hed seen in his friendīs eyes had confused if not scared him. What was there Hutch could possibly be afraid of?
 
And--did he want to know the answer?
 
"Well," heīd said, smiling while trying to get a glimpse into light blue eyes, "no... You know, I thought about someone more... close."
 
Hutch being Hutch, he instantly could read Starskys mind. And his fear intensified. 'Oh God, no. Please no. Please donīt ask me to do that, buddy. Please. I wonīt be able to say no. Though I... I SHOULD say no.'
 
"C-close?" heīd repeated, his voice quivering at the prospect of his friends answer. "Wh-what dīyou mean?"
 
Starsky had smiled warmly again, the hand over Hutchīs knee
squeezing softly. "Like close, buddy. See, I read this book and-"
 
"You... uh... y-you WHAT?!"
 
Despite himself, Starsky had actually blushed. A reaction that alone would have sent his partner over the edge of laughing under the vanished normal circumstances. "I read a book about... Uh..." Nervous eyes wandering down in quick paths, heīd let his words trail off into unintelligible "uhs", until his partner had mercifully released him by asking softly, "Drug abuse?"
 
"Yeah."
 
"Wow," Hutch had stated in mock surprise, "thereīs books about everything, huh?"
 
But before Starsky had opened his mouth to reply something, heīd continued, "So, what did this book of yours say about what to do with junkie-cops?"
 
"Hutch-"
 
"Iīm sorry." As quickly as the remark had had left his lips, heīd regretted it. "Iīm sorry. Im..." Sighing tiredly, heīd run his thumb and index finger over his eyes, shrinking unconsciously away when he sensed Starskys hand hovering over his shoulder. "God, I hate this, Starsk. I just... Oh, donīt listen to me. Donīt..." Eyes still closed, heīd winced. "Where does your clever book send me to?"
 
"Hutch."
 
At the pain audible in his partners voice, Hutch had cringed inwardly, avoiding looking at him. Why was he doing this to Starsky, his Starsky, whoīd been yelled at enough at Huggys, whod been insulted, pushed away, slapped, taken for granted, whoīd endured it all, who had fought more for him than Hutch himself had?  And here he was, lashing out at him all over again, shrinking back from a touch more seeking than offering comfort.
 
Yet another thing: Phantom Hutch was cruel where Hutch had been caring, capable of giving rather than taking. What else had gone? What other parts of him would he find in the original Hutch, because he lacked them now? With just how few parts of yourself could you survive?
 
Actually feeling unable to apologize, unable to even look at his partner, Hutch simply bowed his head, silent.
 
"Buddy, hey." Again, Starsky had slid closer, his fingers finally finding his friends shoulder once more. "Iīm sorry, I didnīt mean to... I just thought I... Oh, hell, Hutch," he sighed deeply, "you need help! We both know that. You canīt just go back in a week or two and just pretend that nothing happened. Youīre beat. And, yes, so I read a book. But just because I want to help you through this. I-"
 
"I know, Starsk," Hutch had cut him off softly. "I know. Itīs okay. I understand." And he had. But at the same time heīd known that what STARSKY couldnīt understand was, that after two weeks in hell, he expected Hutch to go to another one, a hell even worse, an old hell, a long, long forgotten, buried hell.
 
"Okay," Starsky had nodded, reassured by his partnerīs fake acceptance, "well, it sorta says that itīs absolutely necessary to, uh, have contact with, you know, people who are close to you, who love you, like, unconditionally." Visibly nervous, heīd run a hand through his thick curls, casting Hutch a rather helpless look. "Know what I mean?"
 
Bowing his head, Hutch had nodded. Yes, heīd known what Starsky had meant. Unconditional love. Wasnīt that what you were supposed to get from the ones raising you up? Wasnīt that this little something his childhood had always lacked?
 
"Yes."
 
"Yes," Starsky had nodded, feebly trying to look into Hutchīs face. "So... They, those book-guys, they figured in most cases thatīd be, like, family. And I know," hed added quickly, "that you and your folks are not the Waltons, but still..." Another nervous gesture, this time somewhat startling Hutch, confusing him. Something about his partnerīs urging had been wrong. Had felt wrong. "Still, theyīre your family, and they love you, and... Well, I..." A deep, bracing breath. "I mean since you obviously donīt get better... here, I thought that, uhm..." Finally, heīd looked away as if he couldnīt look at Hutch saying his say. "Thing is, buddy, itīs obviously not me you need to get through this. And I donīt... like, you know, feel bad about this or whatever." The last word had been almost said in anger. Anger at himself. "But I... I just want you to feel better again, so maybe we should just give it a try. What dīyou say?"
 
Hutch had stared at the ground, unmoving. Inside, though, he had been screaming. 'Not you I need?! Youīre EVERYTHING I need, buddy! What I DONīT need is a quick visit to the Chambers of Darkness and the Old Man! What I NEED is staying here with you! Donīt make me go there. Donīt make me go there, plea-'
 
"Hutch?"
 
"Yeah," Hutch had answered without looking up. "Home? Youīre sending me home?"
 
"Uhm... SENDING you?" Starsky had repeated, once more confused, almost slightly irritated, the words accompanied by a nervous chuckle. "What am I, head of the family? All Iīm saying is-"
 
"I heard what you said."
 
"Yeah. So? What do you think? What... what do you think is right?"
 
The nearly desperate tinge in the his friendīs voice had been tearing at Hutchīs heart, settling the decision without his mind actually ever having taken any part in it.
 
"If you think itīd be a good idea," heīd muttered, but had squeezed his eyes shut. 
 
Starsky had answered with clear relief, "It is, Hutch, Iīm positive. Itīll do you good. Itīll show you that youīre not, hum..."
 
"Responsible?" Hutch had finished the sentence like hed had before. "A junkie? Unworthy?"
 
"Yeah, well, yeah. That... sorta thing," Starsky had nodded with an affectionate smile, squeezing his partners shoulder. Feeling the familiar sensation of his friendīs caring spread over him like a comforting blanket, Hutch had let his head hang until it unconsciously had touched his partnerīs hand, then had given a tentative nod.
 
"Okay. If you think itīs necessary," hed mumbled.
 
Theyīd sat like that for quite some time, one of them relieved, assured, re-filled with new hope and energy--the other one looking down a dark abyss inside himself heīd thought heīd closed a long time ago.
 
Hell had been waiting, and to ease Starskyīs mind, off Hutch had gone to fight his own personal human demon. Maybe, just maybe, heīd thought, itīd do some good after all. Two demons inside one soul were bound to destroy each other at one point. Werenīt they?

****

Starsky was worried. It had been the third time heīd tried to call Hutch at the Hutchinson Home to get an update on the situation, and again, Mrs. Hutchinson had told him, in a somewhat quivery, almost angsty tone of voice, that Hutch wasnīt there. Said heīd gone to visit a few old pals of his from high school. Or had it been kindergarten?
 
Whatever. Starsky had heard that excuse so often over the past three days, heīd lost count.  'Just how many old friends can a guy like Hutch have?! What was he, Homecoming King?!'
 
Chuckling at the image his mind presented him with of Hutch with a crown on his blond locks, the detective turned away from his phone with a deep sigh, strolling through his Hutch-less apartment, bored. Increasingly bored.
 
Heīd cleaned the whole place twice already, had wiped every single bit of dust off his shelves, had rearranged some framed pictures, hed even contemplated about driving over to the beach house to clean up that too, but the hope of Hutch calling had held him back.
 
Yet--Hutch hadnīt called. Three days, and not a single word from his friend. Not that Starsky expected his partner to call him every day when he was away or to call him at all when he went to stay with his family for a weekend, but... somehow--YES, he did. ESPECIALLY when Hutch was with his family. Okay, so itīd never been the case before, as far as Starsky could recall, Hutch had never before visited his parents or had been visited by them--hell, Starsky didnīt even know the people--but didnīt that fact only increase the likeliness of the assumption that Hutch would call his friend, if only for emotional support?
 
The little that Starsky DID know about the Hutchinson Clan didnīt exactly add up to a picture of a loving, warm home, but quite the contrary actually. For all his withdrawn attitude when it came to his childhood or his family, Hutch had never made a secret out of not being particularly fond of his folks or thinking that it was the other way around. And then, of course, they being as close friends as they were, it would have been impossible for Starsky not to notice the clear signs of neglect that marked the relation-ship between Hutch and his parents. Not only had they failed to call or even write their son when heīd graduated from the academy, theyīd also failed to react--in the very meaning of the word--to Hutchs divorce. Since heīd been with Hutch almost 24/7 for about a week or so after Vanessa had left him, Starsky knew first-hand that no Hutchinson had called, or even bothered to write. Nothing. After Hutch had phoned his mother to inform his parents about Vanessas leaving, all heīd gotten for an answer had been that said lady had already called, and that they needed some "time to adjust to the new situation".
 
The next time Hutch had spoken to his parents had been six months later, on Christmas Eve that year.
 
What had startled Starsky the most about all that, though, and what still appalled him more than anything else, had been his friendīs silent acceptance of that treatment. Itīd seemed as if Hutch had not only expected his parents to react like that, but that heīd also UNDERSTOOD them. In fact, blaming himself for everything that had went wrong between him and Vanessa had developed into a--thankfully short-lived--hobby Starsky had been forced to witness spread over his partner, engulf him. It had been him, Starsky, whoīd finally managed to break through to the grieving man. Much like it had been him, whoīd been there the last couple of weeks, helplessly watching Hutch slide down a slimy road he couldnīt get his footing on. Heīd been there, holding his friend when heīd been in pain, nursing him through the cravings, patting him on the back verbally when heīd been talking himself down in furious little speeches. Yes, heīd been there, heīd been everything he could be--and it still hadnīt been enough.
 
Even though he didnīt want to admit it, that realization hurt. Like hell.
"Oookay," he muttered out loudly, wanting his voice to break through his aching thoughts as he once more strolled back to the phone, snatching the receiver off with an angry motion and dialing a number heīd only recently learned but knew by heart by now. "Cīmon, cīmon, cīmon... Yeah, Mrs. Hutchinson, itīs me again, David Star... Yep. Me. Right. Uh... Well, I kinda figured he didnīt show up in the past ten seconds, y'know. I just wondered if maybe you could tell him to call me back when he comes ho-"
 
A sudden noise behind him startling him, Starsky whirled around with a suppressed yelp, wide-eyed glance meeting...
 
"Hutch!"
 
Still standing in the door, Hutch curled one corner of his mouth to a quivery smile as he gave a curt nod, eyes always in motion as if he wanted to look at Starsky, but couldnīt quite manage to get his eyes into focus.
 
A deep frown spreading on his forehead, Starsky turned back to the phone, quickly cutting off the excited voice penetrating his ears. "Hm? Iīm sor... Yeah, sīokay, he just came i... Yes. Here." A confused glance wandered up to meet Hutch again, who hadnīt moved except for closing the door behind him softly.
 
He didnīt even ask who it was.
 
"Uhm... Sure." Holding out the receiver to Hutch, Starsky forced his voice to be steady as he told him. "Your mother wants to talk to you."
 
All color drained from Hutchīs face at that, and to his friendīs increasing dismay, he quickly and fiercely shook his head, his reaction emphasized by a small step he instinctively took backwards, as if out of fear that the receiver might jump from Starskyīs hand and attack him.
 
"Mrs. Hutchinson?" Starsky asked quietly, not once taking his eyes from his partner. "Heīll call you back, okay? Right now heīs, uh, busy, and... Hm? No." the frown on his forehead only deepened in surprise as he listened to what Hutch could only imagine to be a mass of questions.
 
"No. No. Yes. Uhm... Mrs. Hutchin... Yeah. Listen, heīll call you back, okay?" With that, not waiting for more, Starsky hang up, his hand resting on the phone for a moment, while he let the wordfull silence spread in the room.
 
Hutch squirmed under his look, driving a slightly trembling hand through his flaxen hair before wiping it over his pale face. He looked tired, somewhat... restless, almost haunted, Starsky thought with an inner sigh. As if the shadows on his features had deepened instead of vanished, had become even more strained and not relaxed.
 
All in all it didnīt take a second to see that the good idea Starsky had come up with three days before had changed nothing.
 
"I called," Starsky finally broke the silence and pointed at the phone next to him, "your parents."
 
Hutch nodded, a tiny smile frozen on his lips more like a grimace.
 
"A few times," Starsky added, not urgently, but getting there.
 
Another nod including no sign at all that Hutch would answer to any unspoken questions some time soon.
 
Knowing his partner as he did, Starsky stepped closer, but remained silent, studying his friend closely. He could have pointed out the exact moment Hutch would break under the look.
 
"I-I..." Hutch began, cut himself off, irritated, and started new, voice audibly controlled. "I took an early flight. Sorry, should have called."
 
"Who?" Starsky asked, unimpressed.
 
"Wha... You," Hutch replied, nervously widening his smile with a feeble gesture.
 
"Oh. Right. Maybe your parents too?"
 
As if on cue, Hutch bowed his head, looking for all the world like a five-year-old caught with his hands in the cookie jar.
 
"Hutch, your mother told me you were visiting some old friends," Starsky continued, his tactic of quiet interrogation, as always, short lived. Concern quickly sped up his words. "How early was your early flight, huh? She didnīt even know you were gone!"
 
His words echoing like thunder in the silent room, he watched Hutch watch the floor, and felt his shoulders slump in frustration. When he spoke again, his voice was feather soft, as if careful not to hurt the tired looking manīs ears. "Hutch. Buddy, what? Did something happen?"
 
Actually, the silence he was met with was answer enough. Hutch hadnīt moved an inch since closing the door, standing so close to it as if he was leaving, not coming. Totally un-Hutch-like, he had his hands in his pockets, his chin almost touching his chest, while his shoulders were so tensed you could see the outlines of them under the green tee-shirt.
 
Tilting his head to one side, Starsky sighed sadly. 'You and your big mouth, Davey. Look at him.'
 
"Hey," he muttered and swiftly crossed the space between them to place a warm hand on Hutchīs shoulder, shoving gently in an attempt to get him away from the door. His partner, though, couldnīt be moved. "Hutch, cīmon, you look beat, sit down and tell me what happened, hm?"
 
To his startled surprise, though, he could feel his friend start to tremble beneath his touch.
 
"Hutch?" he asked, more urgently this time, his hand wandering down to the side of Hutchīs shoulder, strangely feeling like needing to support his friend. The moment his fingers closed over their target, Hutch flinched violently, stumbling more than stepping aside, away from the comforting touch with a suppressed sound that to Starsky sounded like a whimper of pain.
 
Partner-radar ringing with its volume up, Starsky backed away just a bit to give the man some space, but remained close enough for contact, glance wandering over his friendīs form searchingly, taking in signs he hadnt noticed before. Hutch avoided looking up at him, his shoulders drawn up even more as if he wanted to hide in himself, curl up to the point of vanishing.
 
As he noticed them now, though, Starsky took yet another small step backwards, somehow managing to shift his position in front of the door in the motion, between it and Hutch. "Okay," he said softly, gesturing for the couch, "sit down, come on."
 
But still his partner didnīt move. It was frightening, for Starsky could actually see, or rather sense, the thoughts running in circles in his friendīs mind. The chaos that spread almost visibly in Hutchīs usually neat, organized mind, showed in his gestures, his gaze darting about on the ground as if he couldnīt stand its look, either.
 
Starsky was pretty sure heīd never ever seen his partner like this, not even with the cravings raging through his body like fever or the pain of withdrawal tearing at his insides. This was different, this went deeper.
 
"Hutch, talk to me."
 
But the second heīd uttered his plea, Starsky knew itīd be denied. Yet, he couldnīt give up. The choking realization that this was one of those moments that could change everything, grabbing him like a cold hand, he stepped closer to his friend, once more reaching out for him--and almost jumped, when Hutch ducked under the touch, so that he now stood next to the door again.
 
Frowning startled at the little dance they involuntarily had just performed, Starsky opened his mouth to speak again, but was kept from it by a large hand suddenly emerging from Hutchīs pockets to grab the doorknob.
 
"Hey!" His own fingers finding Hutchīs instinctively, Starsky secured his partnerīs hand on the doorknob with angry pressure, somewhat relieved to see the light blue eyes snapping up at that. That relief quickly vanished, though, when he noticed that it wasnīt surprise flickering on in them, but pain.
 
Looking down himself, he let go of Hutchīs hand, able to catch a glimpse of a bluish bruise on it, before Hutch had effectively covered it with his other one again. His head was once more bowed, but now the picture of someone trapped, held against his will, was adding to the tensed, haunted image heīd given before.
 
"Whatīs that?" Starsky asked, trying to keep the panic from etching forward in his voice. "Let me see." Gently, he reached out to peel Hutchīs fingers away from his hand, but froze in his motion, when he suddenly felt his friend move closer, into arms that instinctively drew him in as Starsky wrapped them around the trembling form against him.
 
"Uh... H-hey... Buddy, wha?"
 
But Hutch didnīt say a word, the only sound coming from him the intake of shaky breaths as his hair wiped against the side of Starskyīs face.
 
"Hutch?" The panic-supply was at its most now, and despite his instinct to hold the comfort-seeking man in his arms closer, Starsky gently tried to push him away to look into light blue eyes that wouldnīt meet his.
 
"Babe, talk to me. Please. What happened?" Without quitting his attempt at glancing into Hutchīs face, he reached down to lift the injured hand. "How did you get this? What... Gee, will you at least say SOMETHING, please?!"
 
He hadnīt intended for his voice to rise like that, but it did nevertheless, and to his absolute shock, Hutch flinched, tore his hand away, and was out of the door before Starsky could have done anything to stop him, leaving it wide open behind himself. Starskyīs fingers that had flown forward to hold Hutch back found only air, and the door his partner threw closed almost hit his nose, sending him stumbling back until he lost his balance and landed on his behind.
 
"Hutch!" Stumbling on his way back to his feet, he caught the open door, dragging himself up the rest of the way. "Damn. HUTCH!"
 
But all he got for an answer was the unmistakable sound of an engine being started outside.
 
"No, no, no, no, no... Hutch, wait! Wait!" Holding on to the door, he caught himself before falling down the steps, staring after his partnerīs battered LTD just before it vanished around a corner.
 
Letting go off a deep breath, he slumped against the banister until he slid down to sit on the top step, head falling in overwhelming frustration as the whole impact of what had just happened flooded him.
 
Hutch had run. From him.
 
And the look in his eyes. What had that been, fear? Fear of HIM?! Why in the world would Hutch be afraid of him? Why would he run?
 
'Iīve no idea,' he thought, pushing himself to his feet and with a turn threw the door closed before dashing down the rest of the stairs, 'but Iīll be damned if I donīt find out.'
 
The Torino hit the street, before its driver had even fully closed his door.

****

Torino being Torino, Starsky would have been there first, but being a cop, he instinctively chose a different way, firstly as to not draw his obviously confused partnerīs attention toward his car, and secondly, because--as strange as that thought seemed--he had the distinctive notion that if Hutch would see him waiting for him, heīd just run again. So he drove a few extra rounds, before finally pulling over in front of his partnerīs house, just in time to see the front door fall shut.
 
"Oookay, buddy. Were going to settle this right now," he muttered under his breath, while throwing the door shut with angry force, and dashing over to the door. About to just jerk it open and storm inside, he caught himself and settled for knocking... or rather pounding the innocent wood. "Hutch! Open up!"
 
Actually the time he gave his partner to obey the barked order before he simply snatched Hutchīs spare key from the door and let himself in, wouldnīt have been enough to even hear the words, but then fair play wasnīt really what dominated his actions at the moment, anyway.
 
A bit of his fury left him, though, at the scenery displayed in front of him. Hutch stood in the middle of his living room, frozen after having just whirled around to witness his partnerīs sudden entrance, eyes wide with fear. Yet, Starsky couldnīt help but let his energy get the better of him, the door being pushed closed behind him with a loud bang almost against his actual will.
 
"Talk to me. Now."
 
Hutch didnīt move, except for his eyes, but before he could follow the movement with his head, his partnerīs barking sent it snapping up again.
 
"NOW!"
 
Hutch flinched, and Starsky lost it. Crossing the space between them with two swift steps, he grabbed Hutchīs hand before he could back away, jerking his arm upward as if to show him the bruise heīd discovered there earlier.
 
"Whatīs this?" Since he didnīt get an answer immediately, he let go again, missing, in his concerned fury, the wince heīd caused, and took a step closer, brows risen expectantly. "Hm? No? No. Okay. Then maybe you wanna tell me why you ran? Yeah? No?"
 
Hutch looked away.
 
"Hey!" Once more reaching out, Starsky grabbed Hutchīs chin, dragging his face toward him again. "At least look at me, will ya?"
 
Hutch obeyed, biting down on a quivering lip. His partner couldnīt help being reminded of a frightened child, but, maybe because that was such an un-Hutch-like gesture, he couldnīt quite adjust to it, couldnīt seem to soften his words as he went on. He did draw his hand back, though.
 
"Help me out here, partner, cause me, Iīm lost!" Again, there was no answer, and Starsky sighed in frustration, lifting a hand to drive it through his hair.
 
It didnīt make it all the way up before his partnerīs panicked words held it hovering in the air.
 
"No! P-please..." Hutch added in a shaky whisper, ducking as if expecting the hand to come down to...
 
Absolutely taken off guard, Starsky stared at his friend, then at his hand still in the air and back. Where had that come from? It almost seemed like Hutch thought he would... No, he wouldnīt think that--would he?
 
As he watched his friend back away from him even more, gaze still focused on his hand, Starsky finally lowered it, instinctively holding both hands in front of him now in a calming gesture. "Hutch, calm down. Itīs just m-"
 
"I-Iīm sorry really," Hutch talked over his words, voice shaking as he stumbled backwards even more until a wall stopped him. Now trapped, he watched Starsky approach him, but let himself slide down the wall, before the other one could touch him again.
 
All anger vanished, completely replaced by concern, Starsky quickly lowered himself too, crouching down in front of his friend. "Easy, Hutch, hey, itīs me, Starsk. You know that, donīt you? Uh..." As a sudden thought hit him, he frowned in overwhelming panic. "Hey, y-you know where you are, right? Hutch?" When once more no answer came, he carefully reached out for his friend. "Buddy, plea-"
 
"No!" Hutchīs voice cut him off, once more with one hand in the air. "Donīt hit me. Please."
 
"Donīt WHAT?!" Starsky called out, the last word high-pitched, shock displayed on his features, his gaze once more wandered over to his hand that he now lowered, but not to touch Hutch as he had intended to. Instead, he let it fall down onto his own knee, sending himself slumping to the ground, eyes wide as he stared at his friend in utter disbelief.
 
"Hit you?" he repeated in an appalled whisper, urgent worry straining his voice. "Wh-whatīre you... What..." Noticing he stammered, he drew in a deep breath, finally running that hand through his hair. "Hutch, whatīs going on here?"
 
Hutch watched, something returning into his eyes that Starsky hadnīt even noticed to have been missing before, and blinked once, twice, a small frown deepening on his forehead. "Uh... N-nothing," he finally answered in a feather light voice, a nervous smile being visibly forced to spread on his pale face. "Nothing," he repeated and pushed himself to his feet, Starskyīs gaze following him as he quickly stepped away from the scene, once more running.
 
Starsky blinked, shaking his head slightly as if wanting to shake off his disbelief, then followed his partners example, swiftly catching up on Hutch to stop his steps by positioning himself in front of him, blocking his way.
 
"Nothing," he said quietly, looking directly into light blue eyes. "Nothing. Sure." A short pause, then, softly, "Whatīs going on, Hutch. Tell me. Please."
 
To his dismay, Hutch smiled in fake surprise as if he had no idea what Starsky was talking about, and, patting the his shoulder lightly, turned around him to continue his way into the kitchen. "What dīyou mean?" he asked without looking back. "Tell you what?"
 
Starsky froze on spot, the words falling into place in his head--and exploded. "You cut that crap out right now, or so help me Iīll..."
 
Hutch stopped on his way, back still facing his partner who couldnīt stop himself, the anger not boiling anymore, but bubbling. "I donīt know whatīs going on, PARTNER, but Iīm gonna find out, whether you tell me or not, and let ME tell YOU, I... Damn it, Hutch, look at me!" he yelled.
 
Hutch didnīt move.
 
"LOOK AT ME!"
 
Slowly, a tremor increasing in his movements, Hutch half turned, head bowed. "D-donīt yell, Starsk, p-plea-"
 
"YES Iīll yell!" Starsky cut him off, his voice out of tune as he screamed out his concern. "I donīt need to take this shi... I said look at me!!!"
 
He couldnīt help it, his hand reached out to grab his friendīs side to jerk him all the way around before he had even time to think about what he was doing and before Hutch, on the other hand, had time to back away.
 
The rough contact was made--and Hutch yelped loudly in clear pain, doubling over, with Starsky being so off guard he couldnīt catch him fast enough to keep him from hitting the ground with his knees.
 
"Hutch!" Overwhelmed with dismay, Starsky stared down on his partner who held his side, trying to ease the pain by drawing in short, shaky breaths.
 
"Hutch, what... I-Iīm sorry," Starsky rambled, bending down to help his friend up, but met only air as Hutch frantically scrambled away from him. "Hutch, Iīm sorry. I didnīt mean to... I didnīt..."
 
The words trailed off, giving way to silent shock, when he watched Hutch crawl back to the corner heīd sat in before, legs drawn up under his chin, eyes focused on his partner. The trembling had increased to visible shivers now.
 
Going into partner-modus, Starsky swallowed back his own fear, and slowly, carefully approached his friend, before once more crouching down in front of him. "Hutch," he said softly, the voice that just a minute before had resembled a wild animals growl suddenly tender, soft like silk. "Buddy."
 
Hutch shrank back slightly, and Starsky ever so tentatively sat down, crossing his legs as if to show the frightened man that they had all the time in the world. Nothing would happen, he wouldnīt even move unless itd be okay with Hutch.
 
Out of the same reason he didnt ask any more questions at first, but just kept on talking softly to his friend. "Babe. Blintz. Itīs okay, Im here. Starskyīs here, itīs alright. No need to be scared. Iīm sorry I hurt you, I didnīt know. Buddy. Blintz."
 
As the soothing words stroked his ears, his soul, Hutch relaxed a bit, though his gaze never left Starskyīs face, watching him like a trapped mouse would watch a cat. Every once in a while, he winced slightly and shifted his position, obviously in discomfort, a realization that started to increasingly unnerve Starsky, who found it harder by the second to fight the urge to approach his friend further in order to check on him.
 
"Are you in pain?" he finally couldnīt help asking softly, tilting his head to one side with a questioning look. "Hm? Hutch? Did I hurt you? I didnīt mean to, you know that, donīt you?"
 
It took a while, but eventually Hutch gave a tentative nod.
 
Starsky smiled warmly. "Yes I hurt you, or yes you know I didnīt mean it?"
 
"K-know," Hutch answered, but bit his lip again immediately as if startled by his daring to speak.
 
"Yeah, I know you know," Starsky said assuredly, smiling wider. "You know Iīd never hurt you, right?"
 
Again, with a little more courage this time, Hutch nodded.
 
"Right," Starsky nodded. "So... can I come closer now? Hm?" he added softly, bending his head closer like a precaution for his next move.
 
Hutch, though, shook his head almost instantly, leaving Starsky to draw back in dismay.
 
"Buddy, I wonīt hurt you again. I promise. I didnīt do it on purpose," he stated desperately, arching his brows. "Trust me."
 
Hutch swallowed in clear fear and curled up even more. "Donīt want you to see," he muttered, and for the first time since Starsky had sat down, let his gaze fall.
 
His heart breaking at his partnerīs voice and words, Starsky asked, "Donīt want me to see what, Hutch? Whatīs there to see?"
 
A gaze as swift as a flicker of light met his face, but didnīt stay there.
 
"Nothinī."
 
"Well, then why canīt I come closer?"
 
"Donīt know," Hutch muttered, not looking up, but wincing audibly as he drew his legs closer.
 
"Youīre not making sense, babe," Starsky said with an affectionate smile as he slowly slid closer until he could place his hand against Hutchīs leg. To his relief, his friend failed to flinch. "Let me see, okay? Hutch? Let me see where youīre hurt."
 
"Wh-what makes you think Im hurt?" Hutch mumbled, blushing.
 
"Huuutch."
 
Grimacing, Hutch looked down again. "I donīt want you to see."
 
"Hutch, cīmon," his friend said softly, "Iīve seen it before."
 
His face falling, Hutch lifted his head, a blank look on his face. "Wh-what? What dīyou-"
 
"Buddy, itīs me, okay?" Starsky interrupted him gently. "You can tell me everything."
 
"But-"
 
Not hearing the whispered question, Starsky continued, "You can tell me if you had... You know, if you couldnīt resist. I guess it wasnīt such a good idea after all, huh? Visiting your folks? Was it that hard, yeah?"
 
The shadow of a thought crawling through his mind, Hutch frowned slightly. "Y-yeah, but... I donīt... What dīyou mean?"
 
Now it was Starskyīs turn to lower his gaze as he found it too hard to look into the light blue eyes he knew so well and say what was on his mind. "Hutch, thereīs no easy way to say this, okay? So Iīm just gonna say it. Things like this happen. They will continue to happen, but that doesnīt mea-"
 
"You think I used in Duluth?"
 
Startled by his partnerīs suddenly very clear, very stern voice, Starsky looked at him. "Yeah. What... Didnīt you?"
 
For a moment, Hutch just stared at him, then let his head fall as if he didnt have the strength anymore to hold it upright. "Oh. I see."
 
Distress etching its way up his throat, Starsky tightened his grip on his leg. "You see? What dīyou mean? Hutch?" When there was no answer, he finally scooted all the way over to sit next to his friend against the wall, bending forward to get a glimpse of his face. "Hutch?"
 
Again, nothing. Hutch just sat there, shoulders slumped, a man with no fight left in him.
 
"Can I see?" Starsky finally asked, and to his surprise, his friend held out his arm for him, without even looking up.
 
"No," Starsky said softly, "where youīre hurt."
 
Hutch shrugged and started to open the buttons on his shirt, Starsky watching him with growing unease. "I just want to see how bad it is," he said, but was only rewarded with an unimpressed nod. "And only if itīs okay with you," he added, his voice taking on a desperate hint. "IS it okay? Hutch?"
 
Hutch nodded, his fingers slowly working their way upwards.
 
"Buddy, talk to me, will you?"
 
"Yes, itīs okay," Hutch said flatly, not looking at Starsky. "Here." With that, he let the shirt slide down his shoulders and scrambled his way up to his feet, head still bowed. "See."
 
And Starsky saw. "Oh my God."
 
A mass of red, crusted welts covered his friendīs torso along with a few half healed bruises like the one on his hand. Blood had dried upon a few of them, and the horrible pattern didnīt seem to be restricted to the front.
 
"Hutch." Coming to his feet himself, Starsky swallowed back his initial shock, taking a step forward. "What the hell..."
 
Hutch stood, head down, unmoving, shivering as if cold.
 
"What happened? What dīyou do?!" Circling his friend like a visitor studying a statue, Starsky ran a nervous hand through his hair, his voice once more high-pitched. "Who did this?!"
 
Hutch remained silent, enduring the inspection like a prisoner.
 
"WHO DID THIS?!" Starsky repeated firmly, having returned to his position in front of his friend again.
 
Hutch shrugged. "Can I get dressed again?"
 
"Hutch, stop this!" Starsky yelled, but lowered his voice instantly, feeling bad at the flinch hed caused. "Please. Please stop it. Please. Just tell me what happened."
 
Hutch drew in a deep breath, but shook his head, reaching out for his shirt, that Starsky handed him obediently. "Canīt," he whispered, a choked sound catching in his throat like a sob.
 
"Yes, you can," Starsky insisted, his despair so audible it tore at his partnerīs heart. "Yes, you can. Please. God, I... Iīm so sorry I made you go there. I only wanted to help, I..." Looking up to meet Hutchīs pain-filled gaze, he arched his brows pleadingly. "Tell me what happened, partner, please."
 
He wasnīt entirely sure, but he thought he could see a tear glittering on his friendīs cheek. "Hutch. Babe. Please."
 
"Canīt." This time, it was a definite sob. "Canīt tell you. Canīt... Just..." Another sob. "Just let me be. Please, Starsk, please, let me..." A third sob cut him off completely and before heīd registered his partnerīs movement, he found himself being wrapped in a warm, shaking embrace. Overwhelmed by the sudden feeling of safety, of being loved, cared for, he let himself fall and cried into the offered shoulder.
 
"Hutch," Starsky said, near tears himself, as he held on tightly. "Buddy, youīre scaring me."
 
"I-Iīm s-sorry," Hutch sobbed, his knees buckling.
 
"Okay. Okay. You wanna sit down?" Not waiting for his friendīs reply, Starsky slowly led his friend over to the couch, easing him down onto it, his arm remaining around Hutchīs shoulders as he drew him close, his  head rested against his shoulder. "Iīm here, Hutch, okay? Iīm here."
 
Hutch sniffed, but it was answer enough.
 
"You tell me when youīre ready."
 
Again, a sniff.
 
They sat for what felt like an eternity to Starsky, his hand constantly stroking Hutchīs hair, as his friend worked on calming down. When Hutch finally spoke, his voice was soft, merely a whisper as if scared someone might actually hear him. "H-he... he wouldnīt s-stop."
 
"Who?" his friend asked, immediately alert. "Who wouldnīt stop? Stop what?"
 
"I-I... I told him I was sorry," Hutch continued, obviously not having listened to his partner. "I told him it was... That... that it wasnīt my fault. Itīs not my fault."
 
"No," Starsky assured him, though he had no idea what Hutch was talking about. "No, of course itīs not, babe. Itīs not your fault," he repeated in a soothing whisper, once more stroking back the wispy blond strands from his partnerīs forehead. "Hutch?"
 
"*sniff* Yeah?"
 
"Who hurt you?"
 
A pause stretched, until Starsky had almost given up hope, before a frightened whisper reached his ears. "I didnīt use."
 
"Oh Hutch." Closing his eyes, he drew his partner closer, nestling his own forehead against the side of Hutchīs head. "Iīm sorry. Im just... I didnīt mean to-"
 
"Iīm clean."
 
"I know, partner. I know."
 
"H-he wouldnīt believe Im clean, either. B-but I am. Iīm clean. I donīt..." Another sob. "Im clean."
 
"Who wouldnīt believe, Hutch?" Starsky asked. "Please tell me who hurt you. Was it someone you know? Back home? What happened?"
 
"He just wouldnīt stop," Hutch sobbed, snuggling up on his friend for comfort. "And I couldnīt do anything, couldnīt... Just like wh-when I was..."
 
A terrible, terrible thought slowly crept its way forward in Starskyīs mind, yet he simply refused to believe it. "When... when you were what, Hutch?"
 
No answer.
 
"When you were what?"
 
A shuddery breath. "A... a..."
 
Starsky closed his eyes. "A child?"
 
"Yeah."
 
"Oh God." His own eyes closing, Starsky drew his partner even closer, his chin resting on Hutchīs head. "Oh God, Hutch, did... did your father do that?"
 
Silence. Starsky could feel Hutchīs breath against his chest.
 
"Did... did your father..." His words trailing off at the lack of air, Starsky forced himself to speak on, eyes closed. "Did he do that before?"
 
"Yeah."
 
"When you were a kid?"
 
A pause, then. "Yeah."
 
"Oh God," Starsky whispered, not opening his eyes. "Oh God, Hutch. Wh-why didnīt you... Why didnīt you tell me?"
 
"Couldnīt," came the tiny reply.
 
"Couldnīt tell me?" Starsky repeated, dismayed, moving away from
Hutch to directly look at him, who wouldnt meet his eyes. "Why couldnīt you tell me? You really think Iīd have told you to drive home, if Iīd known...?"
 
The high-pitched words trailed off, silent despair evident on Starskys face. "Whyīd you go there, for Christīs sake?!" A shaking hand was driven through thick brown hair, as its owner almost jumped to his feet, seemingly unable to sit still any longer. His voice rising, he started to pace, glancing down at the miserable form on the couch every now and then.
 
"Why didnīt you tell me your fath..." A sudden realization hitting home, he froze dead on spot, shock draining all color from his features. "You never told me." Under every other circumstance, the blank surprise coloring that statement would have been almost ludicrous.
 
"I ve never known you were an..." He swallowed, seemingly receiving the thoughts his mind supplied him with, with slow motion. "... abused child," the horrible sentence was finished, Starskyīs eyes reacting to it as if heīd just heard it.
 
At the audible change in his partnerīs voice, Hutch slowly lifted his head, peeking up at him. Somehow, hearing the truth out of Starskyīs mouth was making things even worse. As if it hadnīt been true before, but had somewhat popped into existence by his friendīs statement. An abused child. God, that sounded so... bad.
 
"Uhm..." he started, uneasy, clearly not comfortable with the direction they were heading at. "I-I wouldnīt say tha-"
 
"You wouldnīt say that?" Starsky repeated in merely a whisper, eyes wide with disbelief, as a shuddering sigh escaped him, matching the gesture of his hand driving through his hair again. "You wouldnīt..."
 
Once more trailing off, he suddenly turned for the door and was out of the house, before Hutch could even open his mouth.
 
"Starsk?" The tiny question wouldnīt have reached a man right beside him, but to Hutch it sounded like a scream, causing him to wince.
 
Slowly, after what felt like hours of waiting, he uncurled his legs to get up, more shuffling than walking to the still open door. "Starsky?"
 
He found him just outside, a bit distanced from the house, seemingly lost in a trance-like observation of the mucky  water glittering under the sun.
 
"Starsk?" he asked carefully, and approached his friend only so much so as to stay behind him. "Hey, wh-whatīs wrong?"
 
Starskyīs shoulders tensed briefly like in a chuckle, and his head dropped a bit. "Will you at least stop that, Hutch? Please?"
 
"What?" Hutch asked, waited, but couldnt seem to bring himself to move again.
 
Finally, Starsky half turned, so that he was looking at Hutch now, whose gaze immediately dropped to the sandy ground. "This 'everythingīs peachy'-shit. Whatīs wrong, you want to know? I just found out that my best friend in the whole world was an abused child, hell, that he IS an abused child, and I never knew a thing about it. And," he added, when Hutchīs head came up slightly, mouth open to answer, "on top of that, it was ME sending him back to the people who obviously did nothing but hurt him all his life!"
 
A tensed pause followed, and when Starsky spoke again, his voice shook with anger, frustration, resignation. "Why didnīt you tell me?"
 
Hutch started, an unintelligible sound escaping him, but cut himself off before it could turn into an actual word, and glanced over his shoulder.
 
"Canīt we go back inside now?"
 
Starsky blinked, didnt follow Hutchīs look. "Why didnīt you tell me?"
 
"Come on, w-weīll talk about it inside, okay?" Hutch replied nervously, squirming under his partnerīs stare, and made a tentative step towards the house. "Okay? Starsk?"
 
"Tell me now."
 
Hutchīs shoulders slumped in resignation, the gesture matching the
change in his expression. "I couldnīt tell you, because it... I donīt..." A deep sigh broke through the stammered explanation, seemingly pushing him to go on, though. "I donīt want you to think of me as an 'abused child'. Iīm an adult, Iīm in control of... Iīm... Oh fuck. Okay, the truth is yes, Iīve been beaten when I was a kid, yes, my father was abusive, yes, I-"
 
"Is abusive," Starsky corrected softly, sad.
 
Hutch glanced up at him, voice quieting when he nodded. "IS abusive."
 
His gaze wandering down to where he knew there were marks beneath the material of Hutchīs shirt, Starsky carefully reached out to place a feather light touch against it. "Did he do it, because..." A quick glance up, brows raised questioningly.
 
"Yeah," Hutch nodded, forcing himself to look into cobalt blues. "Yeah, because."
 
Starsky squeezed his eyes shut briefly, the anger building inside him sensible through his fingertips.
 
"Starsk, itīs compli-"
 
"You told him everything, huh?" Starsky cut him off, eyes still closed.
"And THATīs what he did?"
 
"He-"
 
"You told him what happened to you, that youīve been kidnapped and tortured and... and THATīs how he reacted?! He fucking BEAT you?!"
 
"Uhm... uh... Yep."
 
At the casual reply, Starskyīs eyes snapped open, his jaw working on getting the words out he knew he would regret the second heīd said them.
 
"Can we go inside now?" Hutch asked quietly, and when no answer came, just turned and marched back inside his house.
 
After a moment of gathering his wits again, Starsky followed him, throwing the door shut behind him, regretting that too, though, at the flinch it caused to run over Hutchīs back.
 
"Sorry," he mumbled, fingers brushing against the wooden material as if he was apologizing to the abused door.
 
Hutch shrugged where heīd once more sat down on the couch, legs drawn up. "I understand. Iīd be mad too, I guess. But really, youīve to believe me, I never..." His gaze dropped, the following words mumbled in clear sadness. "Never meant to lie to you. It just... Itīs ... Well, it sorta never came up, and..." A nervous chuckle broke free, much to Starskyīs dismay. "Itīs just not how you introduce yourself, you know? 'Hi, Iīm Hutch, and Iīm-'"
 
"I told you to STOP THAT!" Starsky yelled, and Hutch flinched.
 
Tension filled the quietness of the following moments, Starsky once more pacing. "Hell, Iīm sorry. I shouldnīt yell at you. Iīm sorry. But... Gee, youīre driving me nuts with this! Okay?"
 
A tiny nod accompanied Hutchīs response. "Kay."
 
"īKay. And Iīm not mad at you, buddy. Got that?"
 
"I guess," Hutch muttered, the picture of utter misery, avoiding looking up at his friend, who stopped releasing his anger through his feet to cross over to the couch and crouch down in front of it, so that he could glance up into suddenly very tired light blue eyes.
 
"Hutch." At the lack of a response, he gently placed one hand on one of Hutchīs ankles, leaning in closer in the process. Hutchīs gaze slowly wandered over to meet his, to exchange some unspoken words that couldnīt have been forced into sound, anyway.
 
When Starsky finally spoke again, he found his voice unsteady, the whole impact of what heīd just discovered, of what lay ahead of them both, hitting him as if just in that very moment. And along with that realization came the absolute knowledge of what he had to say. Of what was a necessity to say, as if even though it had always been the truth, it would turn from an abstract to a real, sensible truth by his voicing it. Like for Hutch Starskys verbalizing of his childhood trauma had done.
 
"Thereīs nothing and no one in the world I care more about than you."
 
As if on cue, ironically, Hutchīs eyes filled with moisture, and he sniffed against the rising tears like a brave five-year-old.
 
Rubbing a warm thumb over the spot on Hutchīs foot where his hand still rested, Starsky went on, his voice, though still shaking, clear and quiet, as if the word themselves felt the importance of the message they carried. "I didnīt suggest for you to go see your parents because I didnīt want to deal with what happened to you. I thought being around them might do you better than staying here with me, and you obviously needed someone."
 
"Yeah," Hutch mumbled around a choked back sob. "You."
 
"I know that now," Starsky answered with a small, warm laugh and came to his feet to sink down on the couch next to his exhausted friend, who almost instantly slid closer, until their arms touched. Sighing as he continued, Starsky laid his head back against the headrest, one hand coming up to ever so softly stroke the blond head that had dropped against his shoulder. He couldnīt exactly point his finger at how heīd reached it, but the knowledge was suddenly there, that his next words would be understood right without Hutch needing to look at him.
 
"But when I said itīd be a good idea, I didnīt know what to do, you see. I wanted to help you, and I wanted to BE there, but if... I would have," he started new after his voice breaking badly, closing his eyes at the renewed heartache grabbing him like the memory of a nightmare, "done anything to help you."
 
'Even admit that it wasnīt me you needed,' echoed the unspoken addition in the room, and both men heard it as clearly as if itd been spoken.
 
"I had no idea, Hutch," Starsky said after a while, the words dripping with pure, unmixed sadness. Not about him not knowing, Hutch realized, or Hutch not telling him, but just about IT. It that had started long before theyd even met, it that had been a part of Hutchīs life for too long. It that he, Starsky, couldnīt do anything about. That was what caused his sadness. Nothing else.
 
As if for a response, Hutch nestled his face into his best friendīs shoulder a little more, eyes closing, and relaxed in the complete, engulfing feeling of safety, warmth and love, knowing he gave it as much as he accepted it.
 
They sat like that for what felt like an eternity, with their eyes closed against the time passing, momentarily free from a reality that tugged at their consciousnesses like the wind at a tree, cruel, uncaring, yet just another challenge, something to live through, to grow of. And just like the branches of the tree fighting off the whirls and airy blows, they drew their strength from the same source, them, the one Starsky hadnīt thought to be needed as much as it was.
 
Another realization to grow of. For both of them. It was there, resting for the first time in days, that Hutch suddenly understood what a gesture suggesting his going home had been for his friend, what a, yes, sacrifice.
 
What had happened to him, what had been done to him, had been the most crashing experience they both had lived through ever since theyīd become cops. It hadnīt been what they told you would probably happen to you at the academy. No one warned you of psychos juicing you as a modern way of torture. As a cop, you should be worried about losing your life, not your self.
 
Yet, exactly that had happened to him. That was what had almost destroyed him. Not the pain, not the cravings, not even the really gross stuff, the vomiting, wetting himself, but the engulfing, overwhelming shame. The real cruelty of the drug for him had been that it made you forget yourself when you were dying to get it into your veins, but never ever what youd said or done once your body was through with the cravings. He could remember every single accusation hed spat at Starsky, ever single word hed cried, whimpered, yelled, screamed, choked out. He remembered it all, even the feeling of being absolutely right to react that way to being denied his life source.
 
That had been it, the shame. Shame about what hed become, that had made him withdraw from his best friend, curl up inside of him like a traumatized child, unable to look at reality. And heīd known that feeling.
 
He couldnīt deny that he had sensed how hard itd been for Starsky to suggest his visiting his parents, sending him away, so to speak, but--heīd been so busy staying curled up, so busy closing his eyes against himself, how could he have seen how very much it actually had hurt the other man to do it? For the first time in his life heīd been absolutely unable to care for Starsky, to help him through something he felt they both had endured. He couldnīt imagine what itīd do to him to see Starsky the way hed seen him. In fact, he didnīt want to imagine.
 
"Hutch?"
 
The sudden soft voice broke through Hutchīs thoughts like thunder, and he sniffed, startled, his head instinctively searching for protection against it on Starskyīs shoulder.
 
"Buddy, are you okay down there?"
 
The concern in his friends voice confused Hutch momentarily, until he blinked his eyes open and found that heīd obviously been crying for quite some time now without noticing. Sniffing again, he wiped a feeble hand over the part of his face that wasnt hid in the material of his friendīs shirt. "Yeah."
 
"Okay," Starsky replied warmly, once more placing his hand on Hutchīs forehead and temple as if trying to say that there was no need to break the contact. "Just wanted to check."
 
Again, they sat in silence for some time, before Hutch cleared his throat through drying tears, gathering his strength to speak. Starsky could feel him blink against his shirt, and waited expectantly.
 
"H-he never hit anyone but me, you know."
 
Taken off guard by the statement, Starsky frowned. "Your father?"
 
"Hm-mm," Hutch nodded, drawing in a tiny breath, before adding, "he never hit Karen or... or Mom. Just me."
 
Swallowing back the reply that immediately shot through his mind--'You think that makes it better?!'--Starsky forced his voice to remain quiet as he asked, "How often?"
 
"Dunno," Hutch replied softly. "Whenever he thought it necessary."
 
But Starsky couldnīt let it go now, he had to know. Everything. "And how often was that?"
 
Hutch sighed. "I donīt know, Starsk, okay? Itīs really the same story you hear all the time. When I was a kid, I was afraid of him, and I was careful, but once I got older, I provoked him, and it only stopped when I moved out and went to college. I donīt know how many times it happened, I really didnīt count."
 
Somehow, Starsky thought, it was just like Hutch to shoot back an unnerved reply, while at the same time he didnīt move one inch away from the body he was snuggled up at for comfort. It made him seem so much like a scared little boy just pretending to be an adult, Starsky found himself uttering a soothing "shhh" almost involuntarily. "Okay, buddy, I get it."
 
Sensibly feeling bad about snapping at his friend like that, Hutch added in a very soft voice, "It usually wasnīt this bad. You mustnīt think that."
 
The information had been meant for comfort, but all it did was add fuel to the anger boiling in Starskyīs heart.
 
"Usually?" he repeated, once more with audible effort as to keep his tone calm. "Hutch, whatīd he use, a lash?!" Listening to the echo of his slightly high-pitched addition, he quickly lowered his voice again. "If he beat a child like that, he probably would have killed him. Or at least hurt him permanen..."
 
At his side, Hutch actually winced, as if the sudden horrible realization that hit Starsky could be felt through his body, pushing against his own bruised and aching form. Closing his eyes, he waited for the next question to come.
 
And of course he wasnīt disappointed. "Oh my... I-is that how you..." Starsky stammered, finally shifting enough to catch a glimpse of Hutchīs face, though he wouldnīt meet his eyes. "Is that how you hurt your back?"
 
Hutch had had troubles with his back ever since Starsky had known him, and though he could remember asking Hutch about it once, heīd plainly forgotten the answer hed received for that so many years before, probably, come to think of it, because it had been a well-trained, convincing lie like "was born with it" or "football injury" or anything.
 
Now, though, after all those years, lying was out of the question, and to Starskys utter shock, Hutch nodded mutely.
 
Yet, as dumb as he felt doing it, Starsky couldnīt help widening his eyes and asking again, "REALLY?"
 
This time, there was even a muttered "Yeah" accompanying the nod.
 
"How?"
 
"I... We were..." Hutch started, stopped to draw in a deep breath, running a hand through his hair, that lay flat on his head where heīd rested it on Starskyīs shoulder, and straightened a little to lean back on the couch since their contact had been broken. By that, he somehow managed to touch his shoulder to Starskyīs again, though. "I was seven, or maybe eight, I donīt remember. It was on, uhm... Christmas Eve, and I came home late from playing outside. Lot of snow in Duluth on Christmas, yīknow," he added with a tiny smile, but still refused to look into Starskyīs eyes out of clear fear of what hed see there. "Great to play in. So I just forgot the time, and when I came home..." Lost in memories, he trailed off briefly. When he spoke again, his voice was a mere whisper. "God, he was so mad. I thought heīd kill me. He just wouldnīt stop h-hit..." Again, he had to stop, his voice breaking badly.
 
Starsky stared with his mouth hanging open, as Hutch continued, eyes squeezed shut as if against pain, "Afterwards, he locked me i-in my room. For the whole two days. So that Iīd learn to honor Christmas properly, you know." It looked as though he wanted to say more, he finished with a sad shake of his head and finally glanced up, meeting his partnerīs appalled gaze.
 
"A-and thatīs when y-you hurt your back?"
 
"Oh," Hutch nodded as if only now recalling why hed told the story, "right. Yeah. He sort of... really... hurt me," he finished lamely, after seemingly having searched for a nicer way to say it. "I mean it really, really hurt all the time I was up there in my room, but I was too, I donīt know, scared probably, to tell my mother, when she came to bring me food, so they only found out about something being actually wrong, when I was allowed to come downstairs again, and I couldnīt. Didnīt make it down the stairs. So they brought me to the hospital, and it turned out I suffered slight damage to a vertebra." Tilting his head to one side as if listening to his own story, Hutch suddenly shrugged casually. "Well, at least I got a nice New Years Eve in the hospital. I think I had to throw up because of all the ice cream, but-"
 
"Your father almost crippled you because you came home late?!"
Starsky interrupted him, all attempts at trying to keep his voice low forgotten as he ran a hand through unruly curls, all the time staring at his friend with wide eyes. "God, Hutch, give me a second to let this sink in, okay?"
 
A deep, shuddering sigh gave grim evidence of how much his partnerīs story had affected him, and Hutch arched his brows in shared heartache.
 
"My father didnīt really have a family," he explained softly, sounding like he thought it necessary to comfort Starsky. "My grandfather left the family alone when my father was a baby, and my grandma died when he was ten, so its really sort of... important to him, you know, family."
 
Starsky opened his mouth in clear anger, but quickly closed it again, knowing heīd yell at the wrong person.
 
Hutch understood, anyway, and acknowledged his friendīs feelings with a small smile. "I know what you think, but thatīs how he is. Ignoring the house rule of coming home on time, especially on Christmas, when the family had to have dinner together, was like an offence to him.
Disrespect. And he couldnīt have a son of his showing that. Especially not on Christmas," he repeated, adding with a sad sigh, "I think he loves Christmas, you know, I think he really does. Sorta like you." A warm smile, a quick glance. "But with him... itīs hard to tell what--or if--he loves."
 
Though he didnt want to, no, he absolutely fought against acknowledging the glimmer of compassion he saw in Hutchīs eyes, Starsky couldnt help understanding the meaning of his friendīs words and expression and feeling sorry for the old, bitter man, too. A man who obviously just couldnīt love, couldnīt allow it to break through the thick surface of grim clinging to old, crusty rules and way-to-do-itīs that surrounded his heart like a wall.
 
"In the hospital," Starsky started after a few moments, having to clear his throat too this time, fighting back his own emotions to crash down on him completely, "didnīt they do something? They must have seen-"
 
"My father," Hutch interrupted him, "is not exactly the kind of man you tell how to treat his kid."
 
"But still-"
 
"No," Hutch whispered with a shake of his head, the absolute truth lying in that small word enough for Starsky to stop with his mouth still open. Out of pure, undeniable reflex, he hit the armrest with his fist, and found his shoulder being squeezed in an only too familiar way instantly.
 
"Itīs okay, Starsk," Hutch said softly, squeezing once more, before he let his hand drop again. "It all happened a long time ago. People have changed. Nowadays theyīd probably report something like that even in Duluth."
 
"Oh would they?"
 
The remark had escaped him, before hed even had the chance to stop it, but as it was out in the open now, anyway, Starsky followed the words with his glance, questioning his friend quietly.
 
Face flushing, Hutch bowed his head, sliding away slightly as if away from his partnerīs gaze. "Itīs not that bad, okay? I took a shower, and I checked, and I can tell that he didnīt smash another vertebra, and thereīs nothing broken, either, and-"
 
"Buddy, come on," Starsky interrupted him, clearly concerned, sounding like a grown-up used to talking to a stubborn child, "you know youīll have to see a doctor for that. Some of the spots were still bleeding when you showed them to me, so you probably need some stitches, and besides, I want you to see a doctor to-"
 
"No!"
 
Startled by the sudden vehemence of the reply, Starsky raised his brows. "Hutch?"
 
"I-I," Hutch started, and came to his feet as if out of the need to move, taking a few steps away from the couch before turning to face his friend again. "I canīt... I... Donīt make me tell anyone, Starsky. Please." A begging glance rushed over his features, until it was seemingly wiped away by a quick, yet trembling hand. "I canīt tell anyone that m-my FATHER beat me up!"
 
"But thatīs what happened," Starsky said softly, remaining where he was, sensing Hutchīs need to stand, to look down at him. "Thatīs exactly what happened, Hutch. Your father hurt you so much that you need medical attention."
 
"B-but-" Hutch stuttered desperately.
 
"Thatīs a crime. He committed a crime, and he oughta be held responsible-"
 
"But Iīm not a child, Starsky!" Hutch yelled, efficiently cutting his friend off, though only for a second.
 
"No one said you were," Starsky replied, quieter, but also excited, and came to his feet too, approaching his partner. "But youīre a victim. You were the victim of a crime. And Iīll be damned if anyone--ANYONE--can lay his hands upon my partner and get away with it!"
 
"Donīt you see that this is different?" Hutch asked, again raising his voice, as if the volume somehow helped him fight his obvious fear that Starsky couldnt quite understand. What he could see, though, was that his friend was terrified, absolutely terrified of what would happen if they did what Starsky wanted to do. And THAT scared Starsky.
 
"Different from what?"
 
Hutch stared at him, and closed his eyes as if in resignation, though it wasnt that. "I... Starsk, please..."
 
"Different from what, Hutch? Different from other times when... From Forrest?"
 
Hutch flinched, and Starsky bit his lip, but forced himself to go on, feeling so close to a breakthrough.
 
"Or different from other cases of child abuse, because youīre an adult? Yes, itīs different. But at the same time itīs not. Youīre still HIS child, and youīve been hurt by another person, who HAS to pay for that. Donīt you understand that? You finally have the chance to fight back. BECAUSE youīre no child anymore, you can fight back and show him that he canīt treat you like that." He gave a short pause, trying to look into eyes that wouldnt meet his. Urgency coloring his voice, he went on, "He being your father or not, that man beat another human being with a what, a belt?"
 
To his surprise, Hutch nodded softly.
 
"Yes--and thatīs a crime, Hutch. No one has the right to do that, and whoever does it has to be punished. Thatīs our job, partner. Thatīs what we do every day. See that..." Realizing how overly dramatic his planed words sounded, he rolled his eyes at himself and said them, anyway. "... justice is done."
 
"But not today," Hutch replied, determined, and turned for the kitchen, leaving a somewhat dumbfounded Starsky behind.
 
"Whatīs that supposed to mean?"
 
Throwing the drawer hed just opened out of no visible reason shut again, Hutch whirled around to face his friend, suppressing a wince at the movement. "I wonīt go and press charges against my own father, Starsky. Forget it."
 
"Hutch-"
 
"I WONīT, and thatīs that."
 
"Hutch-"
 
"Oh, God damn it!" Hutch yelled, his fury actually enough to send Starsky a small step back. "What the hell am I supposed to say why he did it, huh?! Buddy? What?! You know, he being my father or not," he continued, sarcasm dripping from his words as he mocked his partnerīs, "that man holds my career as a police officer in his hands. So what shall I say when they ask me? 'I told him Iīm an addict and whoom, he freaked out?!' What?! You tell me!"
 
Standing still, taking it all, Starsky closed his eyes briefly, as if tired, his voice quiet, even as he just said, "Youīre not an addict."
 
"Yeah right," Hutch snorted, turning for the fridge as if heīd just gotten an idea, and opened it. "Says the one who just a minute ago thought I was off to lala-land the second I set my foot on Minnesota ground."
 
Producing a beer from the fridge, he kicked the door closed and lifted the bottle at his partner, who watched sadly. "Cheers, buddy."
 
"Hutch, you know that was diff-"
 
"Oh THAT was different," Hutch cut him off, "because... Hmmmmno, I donīt get it." With hurting, stabbing sarcasm, he glared at Starsky, saw the injury sink into cobalt blue eyes. "Explain it to me. Why was that different from him thinking it, Starsk? Hm? Because you didnīt beat the shit outta me? Because you didnīt lock me up in some dark cellar and planned to admit me somewhere?!"
 
The silence that followed the enraged shouting could have smashed a cow.
 
Starsky felt like his eyes would pop out every second as he stared in overwhelming shock at his panting friend, who seemed to be appalled by his own revelations, his gaze dropping. He trembled visibly, the beer in his hand not even open yet.
 
An eternity passed, Hutch seemingly shrinking in front of Starskyīs eyes, vanishing inside himself and finally sinking down to the floor, right where he stood, the beer bottle resting in his lap with his fingers firmly wrapped around it as if it was a life-line, a rope that would keep him from falling all the way down. His head hung low, gravity sending a stray of blond hair falling into his eyes, but he didnīt brush it away. He didnīt move except for his chest rising and falling in a steady, quiet rhythm and one thumb seemingly stroking the bottle.
 
His partner watched, so focused on the man that the room seemed to shift, as if all the lines had been suddenly drawn towards Hutch, as if he was the center of every light and every shadow, the beating pulse of a large organ.
 
He didnīt even knew exactly what it was that grabbed his heart like an icy hand, fed his terror with abstract, un-pictured thoughts, yet what he knew, though, was more than enough still. He was afraid. More than anything else, more than concerned or appalled or just plain angry, he was afraid, shaken to his very self.
 
And when he finally lowered himself first into a crouch in front of Hutch and then, after a moments pause, fully to the floor, so that they sat facing each other, his very presence, the whole air surrounding him carried that fear like a smell, like a voice. Carried it over to Hutch, who, with a frown, as if not understanding what sudden emotion had swapped against himself, lifted his head to look directly into his friendīs eyes.
 
The moment their gazes met, they both understood the fear, and Hutch was the first to speak; the times of hiding, fidgeting were over, they both knew it.
 
"I escaped," he said quietly, not breaking the eye contact. Starsky nodded mutely.
 
"I spent so much time in that room, I know ways out," he added with a tiny smirk, and again, his partner just nodded, their gazes still locked.
A pause followed, the beginning of a nervous struggle as Hutch swallowed against rising panic. He looked down, but instantly up again, this time seeking the openly offered support he found in Starskyīs eyes. "I told them. And he kept asking questions. 'What did they want?', 'Why did they use heroin?', stuff like that."
 
Ever so slightly, Starsky frowned, but remained silent and where he was across from his friend, whose fingers slowly but determined started to scramble at the label of his still unopened beer.
 
"I told him the truth, that they wanted information. That they used the stuff to..."
 
As the words trailed of into nothingness, Starsky gently reached out to brush a tender hand against Hutchīs knee. It was the briefest of touches, but still it sent his friends gaze upwards to meet his again.
 
"Torture you?" he finished the sentence softly, knowing how much Hutch despised that word to describe his ordeal. Heīd once told Starsky that it reminded him of stories of the medieval ages. Made him feel weak, manipulated.
 
Made him stand too close to the truth.
 
Hutch bit his lower lip, gave a very curt nod, and continued, like a fighter after having been knocked to the ground. "Yeah. That they used it to make me talk. A-and he..." The memories crept back at full speed, blowing away all the quietness that had been on his features before. His eyes closed as if against his will, and his head dropped. "He..."
 
Watching with increasing heartache how Hutch seemed to inwardly curl up on himself once more, trembling hands wiping over his face, through his hair, Starsky found himself sliding closer to him as if out of reflex, until he could reach out and draw him into a comforting hug, feeling the mans tensed muscles relax a bit as he sagged in his partnerīs hold, his face nestled into the material of Starskys shirt. He didnīt cry, but seemed to be beyond that, so tightly held by horror that the tears didnīt dare to fall.
 
"Shhh, Hutch," Starsky soothed, his voice as incredibly soft as his touch, and gently freed the beer bottle from his partnerīs grip, placing it aside. "Shhh, buddy, itīs okay. Youīre here with me now, and I wonīt let him get near you ever again. You hear me? He wonīt touch you again, Iīm here. Right here."
 
He could feel Hutch blinking, before his eyes closed fully when he whispered, "He was so mad. Iīve never seen him like that before, Starsky. Never. He went absolutely nuts."
 
He shuddered at the memory, a poorly suppressed whimper escaping him, and when Starsky drew him in even more, he allowed it only too willingly, seeming to want to hide in the embrace forever, to vanish into the safety and never come out again. The urge to explain, though, was still all too present, so he went on, his voice muffled against Starskyīs arm, "He dragged me into m-my room a-and... b-beat me, and... And... Oh God, Starsk, I-I was so scared, he said he knew a doctor, wh-whos s-specialized in th-things like th-this a-and h-heīd s-s-send m-me th-there f-for th-the-thera-"
 
"Hutch," Starsky interrupted him softly, his own voice not that steady, and ruffled the blond hair beneath his touch, "calm down. Itīs okay, babe, itīs over. No oneīs going to send you anywhere."
 
"B-b-but-"
 
"Try to calm down, buddy, please." Nodding encouragingly, when Hutch drew in a few long, calming breaths, Starsky patted his back lightly. He couldnt remember having seen Hutch this agitated since Forest. The whole situation reminded him painfully of some of the worst aftermaths of the withdrawal-cravings, and he had to hold his own self together tightly just so he wouldnt fall apart right there and then, next to his friend.
 
Hutch quieted a bit, relaxing in his partners loving care, and Starsky almost found it unbearable to go on asking what he had to know. "You told him that you went through withdrawal, didnīt you?"
 
"Yeah," Hutch whispered in a miserable little voice, curling up a bit more in Starskyīs arms as if he wanted to make himself a smaller target for the questions that were bound to follow. "I-I told him a-bout... I told him y-you helped me. Told him bout the c-cold turkey."
 
"And he still wanted to send you to a treatment center?"
 
There was a very, very long silence, before the most pathetic whisper reached Starskyīs already tortured ears. "N-no."
 
"No?" he asked, surprised.
 
"No," Hutch repeated, his voice so low his friend had to strain to hear them. "Not th-hat."
 
How often hed been hit by realizations that day, Starsky couldnīt even recall, but it still hurt like hell when this one seemingly slapped him right in the face. "Where to, Hutch? Where did he want to send you to?"
 
Silence. A sniff. More silence.
 
"Hutch."
 
Again, nothing, then, above a whisper, resigned, believing, "Maybe heīs right after all."
 
Holding on tighter to his friend as if wanting to drag him away from the thoughts infiltrating his mind, Starsky asked, "Right about what? What did he say to you? Hutch? Buddy, this doctor friend, heīs a psychiatrist, isnīt he?"
 
"Yeah," Hutch answered, almost sadly.
 
A deep sigh escaped the other man, and he instinctively lowered his own forehead to let it rest against Hutchīs head, before lifting it again, gently asking further, "And your father wanted to admit you in a psychiatric ward?"
 
An affirmative sniff caused another, even more frustrated sigh. "Oh babe. But... Why? Why would he think-"
 
"He said," Hutchs sad voice cut him off, " that th-there was a reason for them... choosing heroin."
 
"That doesnīt make any sense!" Starsky exploded as much as he could with Hutch cradled in his arms, not wanting to scare him. "Of course there was a reason, and that is that no one can fight heroin! Actually no one can fight any drug thatīs FORCEFULLY pushed in ones -"
 
"B-but there had to be a reason, why they thought I would... go for it like I did," Hutch interrupted his friend once more, to Starskyīs increasing concern not mentioning that he was just quoting his father.
 
"Hutch, everybody goes for heroin. You canīt help it, when itīs forced into you. Youīre a cop, you know that."
 
"But they could have done anything," Hutch replied, and struggled his way up to a sitting position across from Starsky, pain-filled, bright blue eyes seeking understanding. "They could have threatened my life or... or yours or, I donīt know, anything! They didnīt even really hurt me."
 
"Oh, Iīd say they worked you over alright," Starsky stated sarcastically.
 
"Yeah, well, Iīve seen worse," Hutch snapped, and Starsky cringed.
 
"Hey, Blintz, Im sor-"
 
"What I mean," Hutch interrupted him, obviously not even realizing the pain hed just caused with his remark, "is that they knew exactly what to do to... break me. A-and they did, I told them. Hell, I wouldīve told them anything!" He was getting agitated fast, his hands finding the bottle again to take on the frantic scraping at the label.
 
"Hutch, it wasnīt your fault," Starsky said, and after a second, reached out to grab Hutchīs chin, forcing him to look at him again. "You hear me? It was not your fault. No one can do anything against drugs in their system acting on them. No one. And that is why psychos like Forest like to use drugs. He didnīt chose to dope you up because he thought you were an easy target, but because thatīs what he usually does. Because he knows that it works. Always." Drawing his hand back, he arched his brows almost pleadingly. "Okay? Youīre not responsible for what happened. Let it go."
 
"But I canīt let it go!" Hutch exclaimed, desperate. "You donīt understand, Starsk. I would have told them anything for another shot. Wh-what if it hadnīt been about Jeanie? What ifīd been a job, secret information? Or... or you?!" As soon as heīd said it, he was on his feet, pacing in what looked like plain terror, the beer left forgotten on the floor.
 
Starsky watched from where he sat, his heart aching so much it almost made him wince.
 
"What if one day itīs you who.... who needs me, and then I screw up like this?! What if it happens again? I-I mean... I mean, look at me!" he stated, standing still for a second. "Iīm an addict! Like it or not, those things donīt go away, like oneīs always an alcoholic. Iīll always be an addict. A-and, you know," he swallowed hard as if against rising tears, a gesture that sent Starsky slowly coming to his own feet too, "I-I read about it, too, a-about drug abuse, and..." His voice broke badly, but still he forced himself to go on, "and heīs right, Starsky. Heīs fucking right. It does happen to people who are somehow... designed for addiction. Weak people. Like me."
 
"Buddy..." Starsky started and took a tentative step forward, but Hutch backed away slightly, indicating there was more he needed to say. So Starsky waited, taking in deep breaths to brace himself for catching his suffering friend once more. Knowing heīd always--always--catch him. It was the waiting for the fall that was the hardest part.
 
The waiting and the watching.
 
Hutch opened his mouth, but seemed to have just lost his strength as if by that, his gaze dropped and his shoulders slumped. "Iīm such a screw up," he muttered, tears waiting in the back of his voice that shook with an almost hysterical little giggle. "I canīt believe I ran away from home. Like a teenager."
 
'I canīt believe that you didnt do that a long time ago,' Starsky thought, still waiting in silence, though it looked like they were very close to the actual fall as Hutchīs eyes slowly filled with moisture, his whole appearance suggesting weariness.
 
A long, shuddering breath was let out, and Hutch blinked, sending the first tear cascading down his cheek. "I used to run away a lot as a teen..." he stated, carelessly sniffing. "Naturally. But," a shrug, "it never changed a thing. Always came back."
 
Peeking up at Starsky, though he was the taller one, he said with bitterness spicing his words, "Read about that too? Abused children, they always feel like they deserve what happens to them."
 
"Hutch-"
 
Another sniff cut Starsky off, the blond head once more hanging, gaze focused on the ground. "And maybe I did. I-I mean, like I said, he never found it necessary to teach anyone else a lesson like that. Just me. Theres got to be reason for that."
 
"Aw, buddy, donīt go th-"
 
"But," Hutch interrupted Starskyīs dismayed words through a choked back sob, "dīyou know something, Starsk?"
 
His friend tilted his head to the side, questioningly asking, "What?"
 
"Funny, but I donīt feel like I deserved all this."
 
The simple statement was given in such innocent, honest a voice, that Starsky suddenly found it very hard to not let his own tears rise, and it was his cue to step forward and take his friend into his arms, holding the still, almost limp form in a light hug. "Thatīs probably because you didnīt," he said quietly, feeling very silent tears drop onto his shoulder as Hutch rested his forehead on it.
 
"You donīt deserve any of this shit, babe," Starsky went on, drawing his friend in, tightening his hold. "You never did, and Iīm so sorry it happened to you. If I could... take it all away, I would, buddy. I would."
 
"Itīs just too much, Starsk," Hutch mumbled into his shoulder, suppressing a following sob. "Too much."
 
"I know, Hutch, I know. But Iīm here, okay? Youīre not alone. Iīm here, and now I know, and I wonīt ever let you down again like this, and-"
 
"You didnīt let me down," Hutch cut him off quietly, but Starsky just placed one hand on the back of his head, brushing through the blond hair softly.
 
"Okay, Blintz," he smiled. "Okay. But still, I wonīt. Hey, dīyou want to sit down? Hm?"
 
A tired nod sent them both to a slightly staggering short walk over to the couch, where they sat down much like before, Hutchīs head resting against Starskys shoulder.
 
"Hutch?" he started again after a second of silence.
 
"Yeah?"
 
"The book you readīs crap."
 
That--to Starskyīs absolute delight--brought a chuckle to Hutchīs voice, as he asked, sniffing at still falling tears, "And the one you read is not?"
 
"Oh please! That was the worst of all!"
 
A few more chuckles, but eventually Hutch subdued clearly, his gaze dropping even more until it dragged his head along. "But itīs the truth."
 
"Maybe. Though I doubt it," Starsky added after a moment, then continued, "Okay, maybe thereīs some truth in it for some people. Maybe its true that people, who choose to take drugs are sort of... weak. But, Hutch, you never had any choice. You were forcefully injected with the stuff. Please at least think about that, will you? What could you have done?"
 
"But not everyone gets addicted after the very first shot. You have to be somewhat-"
 
"How dīyou know you did?" his partner interrupted him gently. "You cant know that, they kept you on it constantly for days. Youīre not really going to tell me that your book said something about that too, are you?"
 
"Well... no, but-"
 
"No. Because this sort of thing usually doesnt happen. Youīve to get that into your mind, Hutch. You didnīt TAKE drugs, you were tortured. You were a victim. I know that hurts too, but itīs better than beating yourself up about it. You were the victim of a crime." A moments thought, then, "Two crimes."
 
Hutchs silent reply to that seemed as loud as if hed said it, and Starsky
sighed. "Okay, tell you what, you let me bandage you up, and if thereīs really no need for a doctor, you donīt have to go."
 
A pause followed, before Hutch almost timidly said, "A-and I wonīt press charges against him."
 
This time, it was Starsky, who remained silent, too long for Hutchīs liking. "Starsk? You wonīt tell anyone, right?" Shifting a little, he glanced up into his friends serious face. "Starsky?"
 
"If thatīs what you want," he finally said, "of course I wonīt. But," he sighed and broke off, then started again. "Iīm sorry, buddy, but I hate this. I feel so helpless. I mean, after all, it was my fault, and I want to make it-"
 
"Your fault?" Hutch repeated, startled. "Whatīre you talking about?"
 
Another deep sigh followed, carrying the evidence of Starskyīs effort to keep his own tears at bay with it. "You know what I mean, Hutch. I send you there. I know I said it wasnīt like that, but we both know that youīd have done anything I told you to... You know," he finished in a mere mutter, his gaze wandering off. "If... if your father would have really... If heīd have succeeded, I wouldnīt even know where you were now."
 
That brought a smile to Hutchīs pale face, as he teasingly said, "Cīmon, Gordo, you know you would have searched the whole country. You canīt live one hour without me."
 
"Oh canīt I?" Starsky replied, but the banter died as soon as itd been called into existence, he was not ready for it yet. His smirk fading, he shook his head, looking down again. "I canīt believe I sent you there. And then I accused you of..." A sad smile crossed his lips, almost like a wince. "And now Iīm whining because Iīm a jerk!"
 
"Acceptance is the first step to improvement," Hutch teased, blinking up into cobalt blues that met his at that, before snuggling up on his friend with an exaggerated contented sigh. "And, Starsk, you know, after all, youīve been right about something," he muttered tiredly, his energy spent from the events of the day, yet knowing so very well what he had to say that he knew he couldnt fall asleep before heīd said it.
 
"And thatīd be?"
 
"I did need to go see someone who loves me unconditionally. So Id know I belong somewhere. You know, all this psycho babble."
 
Confused, Starsky frowned. "What dīyou mean?"
 
"What you said before I went. I didnīt think it was true." A loud yawn cut him off, but still he mumbled in a sleepy voice, his head lolling over to rest on Starskyīs chest. "But it is, and when I realized that," yawn, "I came right back here." Another small yawn and a slight shifting in order to get more comfortable. "To you."
 
Starsky stared down at the man half sprawled over his side, and blinked, instantly lifting his hand to wipe at his eyes.
 
"Clever me," Hutch sighed, "huh?" And drifted off, his breath evening quickly.
 
Having fallen and been caught, Starsky smiled warmly and leaned his head back, looking at the ceiling. "Yeah, clever you, Blintz," he whispered, and fell silent, listening to his partnerīs breathing.
 
'Too much,' Hutchīs voice echoed in his head, and with his own answer his smile widened slightly. 'Not too much for two, partner.'
 
Reaching carefully behind them, he dragged a crumbled blanket from the headrest, spreading it over his friend who he watched over for the next hours, not afraid anymore of the task that lay before them, him, for, clever he, he knew hed been right. It wasnīt too much for two.
 
THE END

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